How enriched were my youthful afternoons, curling up again and again with the one book I could never get enough of…. The character’s plight and triumph fed hours of fantasizing of independent life in the woods while bringing good to the world.
A French girl, (Paulette?) is orphaned when her parents die one after the other. Paulette’s father married her mother against his affluent father’s wishes, and was therefore disowned by his father. Paulette’s family lived in a harnessed trailer (covered wagon?) as her father’s work as a photographer required him to move around.
Now, all alone on the outskirts of Paris, Paulette must fend for herself. Seeking work, she travels to an industrial town, where she signs up to work in the town’s factory. She is directed to a boarding house, where she is horrified to discover that all the girls are crowded into one large, unaired loft. Accustomed to the open spaces of the outdoors, Paulette is unable to stay in this rooming house one more night.
Wandering outside the town into the woods, she finds an unoccupied shed hunters use during the hunting season. In the coming weeks she furnishes the place and lives there while continuing to work in the factory. She learns to collect plants and cook them and even fish and hunt her own food.
One day, an emergency call comes out to the factory girls, asking for anyone who can speak and write English. Having lived abroad and educated by her parents while always on the move, Paulette volunteers for the office job. While translating and writing business letters, she meets the factory owner, an old, blind and lonely rich man. He takes to her, treats her well, and soon asks her to move into his mansion, where she can read for him in the evenings.
But then a rumor reaches him that Paulette did not live in the boarding house with all the other factory girls. Furious at her deceit, he confronts her, and she tells him about her hut in the woods. To make her point, she leads him in the dead of the night to the rooming house to breathe the unaired room, and he understands the poor conditions in which his factory workers live.
Thanks to Paulette, he builds new housing for his laborers and even starts classes for the girls so they can complete their education.
And then, in a twist of events, he learns that he is her grandfather, the man who disowned his son. The discovery that the girl he has become so fond of is his granddaughter is the happiest in his life.
I read this book dozens of times, always carried away by the romantic fantasy of making myself a home in the woods—and then working to saving and changing the lives of underprivileged girls.
But along the way, I forgot the name of the French author or the French-translated title (as well as the protagonist's.) Do you know them?